4 Low-Cost Tests for Fundraising Direct-Mail Acquisition

We’ve all heard the three rules of direct-response fundraising: test, test and test some more. But what if your budget barely allows you to do any direct-mail donor acquisition at all, let alone test multiple packages?

Unfortunately, organic growth is usually not enough to offset attrition, and online acquisition may not be enough to grow your donor file. So, rather than calculating when attrition will leave you with only one remaining donor (though from experience, I assure you that presenting your board with a graph showing that startling statistic is quite effective), here are four ways to stretch even the smallest direct-mail acquisition budget for maximum impact.

  1. Go deep
    If you aren’t already doing so, include deeply lapsed donors and prospects in your acquisition mailing. These names typically perform better than rented or exchanged mailing lists and cost you nothing for the name (other than NCOA data hygiene if you don’t regularly do that).
  2. The search for the perfect carrier
    If you have a letter that is working, or you can only afford to have one acquisition letter written, test multiple carrier envelopes. Try different teasers, no teaser, a photo on the envelope, Kraft or colored stock instead of white, etc.
  3. It’s what’s inside that counts
    Add an insert to your base mailing of a letter, reply slip, reply envelope or carrier envelope. Mail the package without an insert to one test panel, and mail other panels identical packages except for the insert. The insert could be a lift note from a well-known person adding his or her endorsement, one or two drop-in photos (with a short caption printed on the back), or an involvement device (something the donor can sign and return for you to give to one of your clients, for example). Measure any increase in response rate and net income.
  4. Are you attached?
    If your mailing has an attached reply form (meaning the reply slip is attached to the letter), test a loose reply form. A separate reply form may add healthy tension to your mailing — and that can increase response.

Make your tests matter
When you test in fundraising, create scenarios for meaningful findings. That means coding each test segment so you can measure results when the responses come in, testing only one thing at a time so you know what causes the lift in response, and mailing a large enough quantity of each test panel to generate enough responses to give you a measure of confidence in your learnings.

You can typically get a “good enough” read on your tests by mailing only 5,000 pieces of each one. My apologies to the statisticians who are wincing at that statement, but let’s face it — when money for acquisition is very tight, we make do. It’s not perfect, but it’s a place to start.

Someday you may have a budget to test a million pieces of donor-acquisition mail. But until that day comes, keep stretching those dollars and striving for constant improvements in your results.

Originally Published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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